Cycle of Violence
The cycle of violence theory, developed by Dr Lenore Walker in 1979, describes the phases of an abusive relationship in the lead up to and following a violent event.
The model looks at the repeated actions of a perpetrator, and how it impedes a victim’s ability to leave an abusive relationship. Once you are aware of this cycle it is much easier to notice the signs of it in your relationship.
Phase 1 – Tension Building Phase
- Build Up: Tension between the people in the relationship starts to increase and verbal, emotional or financial abuse occurs.
- Stand-over: This phase can be very frightening for people experiencing abuse. They feel as though the situation will explode if they do anything wrong. The behaviour of the abuser intensifies and reaches a point where a release of tension is inevitable.
Phase 2 – Acute Explosion
The peak of the violence is reached in this phase. The perpetrator experiences a release of tension and this behaviour may become habitual.
Phase 3 – Honeymoon Phase
- Remorse: At this point, the perpetrator may start to feel ashamed. They may become withdrawn and try to justify their actions to themselves and others. For example, they may say: “You know it makes me angry when you say that.”
- Pursuit: During the pursuit phase, the perpetrator may promise to never be violent again. They may try to explain the violence by blaming other factors such as alcohol or stress at work. The perpetrator may be very attentive to the person experiencing violence, including buying gifts and helping around the house. It could seem as though the perpetrator has changed. At this point, the person experiencing the violence can feel confused and hurt but also relieved that the violence is over.
- Denial phase: Both people in the relationship may be in denial about the severity of the abuse and violence. Intimacy can increase during this phase. Both people may feel happy and want the relationship to continue, so they may not acknowledge the possibility that the violence could happen again.
Over time, this phase passes and the cycle may begin again.